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Taiwan 2010 – Torn Between a Steak and a Vomitorium

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“At no point in this story is actual vomit involved.”

Honestly, I am seriously torn about how to “pitch” this particular blog post. It all relates to a single story and it has two different facets, it has the comedy vomit angle and it has the high praise for excellent food angle. You’d think they’d be utterly incompatible and yet they are one and the same story. Should I write the article and tell how amazingly wonderful the No. 168 Prime Steakhouse in Taipei is or go with with the “gosh, they sure are different in Taiwan” angle and get the cheap laughs? I am torn.

I’ve decided I’ll just tell the story as it happened.

Longtime readers of my blog will know that I have a very short links list. I read from over 150 blogs and newsfeeds daily, but there are only a few that, for some reason or another, I choose to promote. (Whether or not that promotion is appreciated is another question.)

One of them is A Hungry Girl’s Guide to Taipei. This is a blog that reviews restaurants in Taipei. It’s in English. I speak English. It’s about eating. I eat. it’s about Taipei. I go to Taipei. It’s uncanny. It’s as if it was written just for me.

I corresponded with her a little bit on Twitter and she recommended No. 168 Prime Steakhouse, saying that their “steaks were wonderful”, which is all I need to hear about any restaurant. I admit, I didn’t even go see if she had a review, I just passed the info along to my wife saying, “If your parents are looking for restaurants to take me to, I hear No. 168 Prime Steakhouse is ‘wonderful'”

And so it was on my final night in Taipei, they took the entire family to No. 168 Prime Steakhouse, which, it turns out is in the five-star Grand Victoria Hotel. (To be honest, I couldn’t find any documentation that said it was actually a five-star hotel, but if it isn’t, they’re trying really hard.)

I packed very light for this trip, getting my entire kit inside a piece of luggage could, if lucky, be considered carry-on. I had 4 pair of shorts, 4 t-shirts, one pair of pants, one polo shirt, 2 pair of sandals and 1 pair of tennis shoes. I got all dressed up in the tennis shoes, pants and polo shirt, thinking the place was probably a little more upscale than sandals, shorts and a Loch Ness Monster Adventure Club shirt, which was my typical daily wear. I was; however, still seriously underdressed for the No. 168 Prime. Luckily we had a private room, where they waited on us hand and foot and constantly served us expensive bottled water. Their prices were… high, and I was a little embarrassed to have suggested this restaurant because I knew my father-in-law was paying.

But, he had checked the place out first, so he knew what he was getting into. I only found out when I saw the menu and started doing exchange rate calculations in my head and going, “That can’t be right. US$ 90 for a steak?”

My father-in-law had already decided on their monthly special, which this month was a 45oz American Kobe Beef Ribeye (serves 4-5 people). This was their special for the month and it was, by their own statement, “The best piece of meat we have in the restaurant.” It cost US$ 150.

My mother-in-law doesn’t eat much meat, and my father-in-law can be a fairly moderate eater (except at all-you-can-eat places), so when he suggested that we get the special, I figured that would work out just about right for the four of us. The kids could order a dish and share and my bother-in-law and his girlfriend could get whatever they wanted.

Wrong, my father-in-law ordered the steak with the intention that all eight of us would share it, and then if somehow we we still hungry after each consuming 5.6oz of steak, we could order something else.

I can tell you, unreservedly, it was the best chunk of steak I’ve ever had in my life. It was sublime. I managed to get three strips of it, as did Michelle. Neither one of us got enough, and I can hardly see how there was enough to even get a start for the others.

When it was clear it wasn’t enough, they suggested I pick something else to order, like a New York steak. I couldn’t. I just couldn’t. How do you follow up the best steak you’ve ever had? You don’t, and you certainly don’t follow it with a “lesser” piece of steak. (Typically, I’d never call a New York Strip a “lesser” piece of steak than a ribeye, but in this case, it had to be.)

So I am left with the all-too-brief memory of this wonderful steak, which has set the bar very high indeed for future steaks.

I should also mention that their bread, made on the premises by some sort of low-termperature, 16-hour baking process, their Caesar salad and french onion were all also very good.

I will heartily shout the praises for No. 168 Prime Steakhouse. Exquisite!

(Oh, and the hotel had free wifi, so I was able to hook up on the iPhone while at dinner. Another plus.)

Hardly seems appropriate to drift onto the topic of vomit at this point, does it? Let me be very, very clear on this point: At no point in this story is actual vomit involved. There is nothing whatsoever in my opinion that should be associated with vomit and this wonderful steakhouse, or indeed what appears to be an excellent hotel, but they did bring it upon themselves.

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This is all because of a button; a wonderfully mysterious, enigmatic, lovely, classically red button.

If it isn’t painfully obvious, let me reiterate that I don’t speak much Chinese – certainly not enough to carry on a conversation, although I can sometimes pick up the gist of a conversation. I read even less Chinese, but I do know a few hundred characters (sometimes I know them from my study of Japanese, other times from my study of Chinese.) One of the patterns I can recognize is Chinese for “please don’t.” This is important to my story and not just me rambling, so keep that in the back of your mind: I am functionally illiterate in Chinese, but not completely illiterate. A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing.

James, at 5 years old, as taken up what appears to be an obsession with squat toilets. Whenever he knows there a squat toilet, he wants to go pee in it. (What could be more fun that peeing in a hole in the ground to a five-year old?) Shortly after our arrival at No. 168, James had to go to the bathroom, and someone else took him.

It wasn’t long afterwards that he went again, and again, someone else took him. At this point, I began to suspect that the restroom had a squat toilet and that he was a little bored with the dinner proceedings.

On his third request to go, I took him because I also needed to use the facilities and I was curious if my hypothesis was correct. It turned out that I was only partially correct, because what appeared to be fascinating James was the sink.

As you walk into this immaculately clean restroom, there are sinks on the left, ahead and turning a corner is a wall of urinals and behind them are the stalls. In the corner, next to the last urinal is a large sink. it’s not uncommon for restrooms in Taiwan to have a large laundry sink in them, usually with a mop nearby, and ofttimes with a cleaning lady standing there waiting for you to belly up to the urinal so that she can mop around your feet while you’re urinating. (That takes some getting used to.)

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In this case, the “laundry” sink was spotlessly clean, oval shaped and all gleaming stainless steel, artistically lighted from above. It also had a curious grating at the bottom, which was elevated about one inch above the actual bottom of the basin. If it was a laundry sink (and I had no reason to doubt that it was) it was the most expensive, pretentious laundry sink I’ve ever seen.

It also had, immediately above it, the button. The pretty red button. And the button had a sign, and the sign said, “[gibberish, gibberish]! Please don’t [gibberish] hand.”

Oh, temptation, thy name is “pretty red button that says, ‘please don’t'” on thee!

James, upon finishing up in the stall, went to the “laundry” sink and was about to wash his hands. I stopped him, and explained that this sink was not for washing hands, and that he should go use the regular sinks which had soap and towels available. He seemed remarkably disappointed and I noticed that, while clean, the sink wasn’t dry.

Back at the table, I asked Irene if they had a similar sink in the ladies’ room. She said they did not, so I was no closer to knowing that the pretty red button said.

Throughout the evening, James continued to ask to go back to the bathroom, and every time I’d say to him, “Don’t use that sink” and his face would get all crestfallen.

Finally, I could stand it no more and I went back and took a picture of the sink and the sign and brought it back so that Chu-Wan could tell me what it said. At first she had the most odd look on her face end then she translated it for me.

It says, “This is the sink for vomiting, please do not wash hands here.”

The answer, rather than being satisfying, raised more questions than it answered. Not only does the sign on the button completely fail to tell you what the pretty red button is for, but now I wonder what a classy restaurant needs a vomit sink for??? (Apart from the obvious.)

I can only imagine that, because it is a classy, expensive restaurant, businessmen bring clients here to wine and dine them; mostly wine them, and in the Japanese tradition, get so drunk that they vomit and then sleep on the street because it’s too late to catch the train home.

Anyone who eats at this restaurant and has one of these wonderful steak and then vomits it up is committing a crime the culinary world, if not against humanity itself!!!

What does that damn button do?! Does it operate a garbage disposal and grind up the debris or is it a call switch so that someone from housekeeping can quickly come make the restroom clean and pleasant for the other customers? Why is there a grate at the bottom? Wouldn’t that prevent larger chunks of matter from getting into the drain? Is it to stop the neckties of drunken vomiters from getting stuck in the running disposal unit? Is it some sort of high-tech vomitus splash guard?

Why must my memory of this wonderful restaurant be eternally linked to questions about vomit?

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Bottom line – This is what you should take from this blog post: No. 168 Prime Steakhouse = excellent steak.

(But if you do happen to go there, and you visit the men’s room, don’t wash your hands in that sink, but if you do happen (perhaps by mistake) to push that pretty, red button; that incredibly tempting, wonderfully round and inviting, pretty, red button… post me a comment and tell me what it does.)

Implications of the world of Ashes to Ashes

I’ll not review the finale of Ashes to Ashes as an episode, I never really reviewed the finale of Life on Mars, nor have I been reviewing either series on an episode by episode basis. There’s no reason for me to start that now. That notwithstanding, I’ve faithfully watched both series from day one. I had more affinity for Life on Mars probably because my age my closely matches Sam Tyler’s and because the mystery of the series was more unique and pronounced than then post-Life on Mars finale world of Ashes to Ashes.

If you’ve not watched these series, be aware that no discussion of the end of either of these series could be considered spoiler-free. You have been warned. Really, if you haven’t watched Life on Mars and you ever think you might (and you should) don’t read this post. It will ruin the show for you.

Read more after the break…

Continue reading Implications of the world of Ashes to Ashes